Issue 208, June 13, 2000  

Y2K Fails To Live Up To Its Hype — Again

By Stephen M. Lawton

      Let's face it — things have gotten downright dull in the tech world since Armageddon failed to show up on New Year's Day. Last year we had the Y2K scare, the beginning of the Microsoft trial, the opening rounds of UCITA (Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act), stock market records on a daily basis and, generally speaking, lots of excitement and drama. Here we are nearing midyear and, well, there's just not too much going on right now.
      On the political front, the Microsoft story has gone from big news in 1999 to old news. Microsoft recently suggested slapping its own wrist. Wow, that was high drama. There was an amusing point to Microsoft's most recent filing, however. When all of this started, Microsoft spoke passionately about how Internet Explorer was an integral part of Windows 98. You can't separate the two, said one Microsoft executive after another. Now, as part of its "punishment" for being the computer industry equivalent of the Evil Empire, Microsoft is suggesting that it would offer different versions of its operating system — one with and one without the browser interface. I suppose the word integrated has a new meaning. Quick, call Websters!
      A mildly amusing story recently noted the loss of notebook computers from the State Department. No organization is ever completely secure — but leaving a notebook with unencrypted national security secrets laying around — that's almost as bad as taking one home with national security information on it and then using it to access questionable Web sites over an unsecured phone line. Wait a sec — that's been done too, but not this year.
      What we need is something to galvanize the industry. From a hardware standpoint, all we're getting is faster, smaller and cheaper, and that's not generating much excitement anymore. Even the launch of the 1GHz microprocessor has been generally a dud of a story. Sure, there are some graphics-intensive applications, such as CAD, that benefit from the blazing speed, but one systems vendor told me recently that the No. 1 application for the gigahertz-class machines was — get this — games. Are you telling me that these super-fast behemoths are being used for Doom and the like, I asked. Yes, indeed. It seems that general-purpose business software is still so far back in the dark ages, it can't even make good use of those ancient 700MHz systems, in many cases.
      But we do have some exciting new products on the horizon. How often do you get the chance not only to blow up the bad guy on your PlayStation, but also launch real thermonuclear missiles? The Japanese government warns us that the new PlayStation 2 console (that's PS2 in gamer talk, as opposed to PS/2 in IBM-speak) is powerful enough to be a military weapon. Now kids have a way to put it into practice the mayhem they learned.
      What we are facing here is a serious lack of drama and intrigue. We might be forced to look for humor, gratuitous sex and character assassination in something a little more traditional — you know — the November elections.



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